Saturday, January 27, 2018

Train thoughts on the education commissoner interviews

I tweeted this out on my ride home yesterday, but I was asked to put it in a more shareable format. h/t to Dan Callahan who caught the proof that I was on the train. As always, my thoughts, nothing further, upon reflection of nearly six hours of interviews. 

The crowd ebbed and flowed over the day: it was a good size for Schwinn, the room was full for Infante-Green, smaller for Riley. Riley, of course, is something of a known quantity for Massachusetts at the state level, so that wasn't entirely surprising.

I went into yesterday expecting to be wowed by Schwinn; I assumed she had to be a great interview, because I didn't understand how else she would have made it to the finalists' list. She wasn't. She wasn't awful--she had a response for every question and gave examples when asked--but I assumed, with the state level positions she's held in more than one state, she would have studied Massachusetts. She hadn't. Her answers in many cases made it clear that she didn't know what we've been doing. I also expected, given her background and public comments, to be more in disagreement with what she had to say. I wasn't; more than once, I went back and re-read something, thinking, "Yeah, okay." So much of what she said was management jargon, though, that it was difficult to find much to hang onto. If I never hear "performance management" again, it will be too soon. The Board did push a bit on the special education issue(s) in Texas; some clearly were satisfied with her answer, others clearly were not. In sum, I thought I would at least get the attraction and I really didn't. Notes on that interview are here.

I'm not giving away the game to say there's some smart money on Infante-Green; there has already been at least one #teaminfantegreen tweet. She has the most compelling story, both personally and professionally. It would also, bluntly, look pretty good for our Republican (but, no, really, not that kind, he says) governor to oversee the appointment of the first woman and first Latino Commissioner. Yesterday, Infante-Green no sooner sat down then she made the Board and crowd laugh. The energy in the room changed entirely (this is why I don't sit in the front, by the way). I don't know if the Board even realized they were doing it, but they engaged with her in an entirely different way than they had with Schwinn. They asked follow-up questions that were relevant to her answers. Clearly, Infante-Green's home turf is English learners and special education; I and others have wondered if she's siloed there. I was a bit reassured on that count today. I did, though, intentionally flag her speaking of the empowerment zone and bringing "Third Way Ed" back from the dead, both of which are very odd from someone who at one point said "data data data." There is none or very little. Also, some of her responses on poverty were not okay; poverty does impact the classroom, and it's silly and dangerous to deny that. Should it lower our expectations? No. But we as adults should expect a whole lot more of ourselves when kids are poor; I didn't hear enough of that from her. And I'm overemphasizing both of these points because she's the strongest candidate. I like that she wants to keep her kids in dual language programs (me, too). And I think she walked out of there in the strongest position. Notes on that interview are here.

As I've said before, Riley is a known face to the Board; he's in every few months to update them on Lawrence. They know him, they know his views, and thus the exchange with Secretary Peyser on the "test scores beat all" philosophy (of Peyser's) wasn't a surprise, at least to me. Riley doesn't believe that's the most important or only thing in education; lucky for us, neither does most of the Board. Riley's been consistent throughout his career on that (you can find it in print as far back as his time at Edwards Middle), and let me say that I honor that consistency. Riley also acknowledged his privilege as a white male, which makes for quite a break with subjects that might in other times have been undiscussed; it noted the elephant in the room. His answer on poverty was much more balanced (and note that Lawrence has expanded all sorts of outside services to kids), I found. I have never thought that this was "Riley's to lose," as I've heard many people (who spend less time in Board of Ed meetings) say; there also will definitely be timing and visuals and politics as part of this appointment. Notes on that interview are here.

You can still comment on the selection to the Board til noon today. They vote on their choice at 12:30 on Monday in Malden.
And yes, I will be at that, too! 

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